The Arsenal Players with no Future at the Club
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
The curtain has drawn on what was one of the most enjoyable Arsenal seasons fans have witnessed in recent years. On the pitch, improvement was vivid, especially when Mikel Arteta was given the opportunity to deploy a midfield consisting of Martin Ødegaard, Granit Xhaka, and Thomas Partey. However, missing the hugely presentable chance to play Champions League football next season has left a sour taste in the mouths of many an Arsenal fan, with many calling for squad adjustments.
At the season’s end, what caused Arsenal’s end of campaign failings was clear - a lack of quality in depth. Mikel Arteta’s best XI is of Champions League quality. Both results and underlying metrics evidence this. Issues arise when the Spaniard is forced to rely on his squad players, many of whom are liabilities when instructed to play within Arteta’s system.
These are the players who absolutely must be moved on this Summer. Aside from the fact that they consistently let their manager down, they don’t provide the quality reinforcement required in a top side. Not only is adequate reinforcement vital in practical terms to enable performance levels to remain high, but also psychologically, to ensure players don’t feel secure in their place in the team, giving them that extra motivation to play well week in week out.
Firstly, Çedric Soares. The Portuguese international has enjoyed some decent moments in an Arsenal shirt. He covered Takehiro Tomiyasu commendably for a short period in the new year before his form dipped, he somehow always ends up in goal celebration photos, and he seems to be a genuinely well liked figure around the camp at Arsenal. All that being said, the fact he is not good enough to play for a football club of Arsenal’s stature does not change.
The former Southampton man has let his side down on a regular basis since joining Arsenal, with lapses in concentration defensively and erratic decision making on the ball. He is a liability personified. David Ornstein reported this morning that the club were ‘pleased’ with Çedric’s performance as Tomiyasu’s understudy. Given Arteta’s reluctance to start the 30-year-old at Newcastle a few weeks ago, this appears wide of the mark. He should be moved on this Summer - no debate.
Another area of debate surrounds English centre-back Rob Holding. Arsenal’s second longest-serving player has covered well at times this season, but when he is asked to deputise for either one of Ben White or Gabriel, his deficiencies are made evident, specifically on the ball. However, considering he’ll likely be fourth choice centre-back next season, the club would likely struggle to find a player of his quality willing to fulfil such a role. Holding will be sticking around unless an attractive offer comes in.
Moving in to the centre of the park, the future of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny is also far from certain. Rumours have been circulating that the 29-year-old is set to pen to paper to a contract extension with the club, which has left some sectors of the fanbase scratching their heads. For all the good he brings, a steady presence and a willing learner, the former Basel man is a very limited footballer.
Although it seems probable that Elneny will end up staying at Arsenal for the time being, one hopes the club do all they can to ensure they don’t have to depend on him like they did at the tail end of this season. He cannot be viewed as Thomas Partey’s understudy and if Albert Sambi Lokonga is deemed unsuited to such a role for next season, Arsenal need to find reinforcement for the Ghanaian via the transfer market. The less we see of Elneny next season the better.
In the forward areas, it appears obvious that two players have no future at the club. Alexandre Lacazette is yet to extend his deal with Arsenal which expires in a week’s time and nothing suggests there’ll be a dramatic turn of events in that regard. The Frenchman scored just 1 open play goal in the league this season and his understudy Eddie Nketiah outscored him despite starting 12 less games. He’s been a valued asset at Arsenal, but his time in north London is over. Mikel Arteta has made the right decision in opting to let his captain and no. 9 leave the club this Summer.
As for Lacazette’s french speaking counterpart Nico Pepe, the sorry saga of the Ivorian’s time at Arsenal finally looks to be coming to an end. Arsenal’s record signing has never lived up to the hefty expectations place upon him when he signed 3 years ago, showing only flashes of quality, and what has been an unhappy marriage should be divorced this Summer. All signs point to this occurring, with Arsenal reportedly listening to offers for the 26-year-old and the player himself appointing a new agent to handle his future.
Goalkeeper Bernd Leno and Eddie Nketiah also appear to be heading towards the exit door this Summer. As for Leno, quality isn’t the issue, he’s a superb backup goalkeeper, but he himself wants to be a no. 1, and the club must let him move on if an offer comes in this Summer. Concerning Nketiah, one would imagine the technical team at Arsenal will be doing all they can to secure a last gasp contract extension after a strong end to the season for the forward. It is clear he can be a valuable asset to his manager up front.
The first 5 players discussed in this assessment epitomise the type of player Mikel Arteta will be looking to eradicate from his project in years to come. The type of player who distinctly inhibits his side’s ability to play their best football. A lack of quality is not the prescribed issue for all of these players, in some cases, the players just don’t suit Arteta’s footballing vision. Consequently, however, they do not provide the quality in depth required, and given how essential such quality will be next season with Europa League football, at least some of these players must be replaced. Their time is up.